5 Intriguing Things: Monday, 1/6

Movie posters as data, Zuckerberg's new interest in profit, synthetic speech, radio collectibles, and the lay of the land.

1. For the last century, the hue of movie posters has gotten more blue and less orange, according to this data analysis

"This does appears to be a steady trend since 1915. Could this be related to evolution in the physical process of poster printing; what’s the effect of the economics and difficulty of producing posters over time? I also wonder whether moviemakers have become better at figuring out the 'optimal' colour distribution of posters over time, and whether we’re asymptotically approaching some quiescent distribution."


2. Zuckerberg's (supposedly) tortured turn to making money. 

"Yet Mr. Zuckerberg has learned to embrace—or at least accept—the reality that he now is in charge of what might be bluntly described as the most visible advertising business in the world. It is a big leap for the college dropout who wrote in a letter to potential investors just before the initial public offering: 'Facebook was not originally created to be a company.'"


3. A bibliography of synthetic speech, by a scholar researching communication technologies for children who have speech impairments.

"I have been struck by a recurring theme in my interviews and observations: parents referring to the speech produced by the iPad as their child’s 'voice' and to the iPad itself as a 'talker.'  There is no neat way to distinguish between the metaphorical and literal uses of voice and talk here.  I’ve been looking into the history of synthetic speech (along with the history of prosthetics) in order to understand why the voices sound the way that they do, what other technologies (e.g. earlier personal computers, non-electronic devices) have been used to produce artificial speech, and for what purposes."


4. A collection of beautiful QSL cards collected by a radio enthusiast in 1956. QSL is code for: "I confirm receipt of your transmission." They were/are the collectible trophies of the hobby.


5. This meditation on how to represent mountains in 3D maps is endlessly fascinating. But let's steal the conclusion. 

"This kind of dynamic representation might look odd here, but we do this sort of thing constantly, especially in the digital world. Online maps show various details – like roads, or street names – only at certain zoom levels. The act of resampling a digital image averages or extrapolates the value of a pixel from its neighbors. And every pixel in every digital photograph is the average of the light that reached that spot on the sensor.

I’ve cheated a bit here by focusing on relief maps. Every representation, in every medium, is subject to procedural artifacts and the judgements of its creators. Some artifacts are more obvious, and some judgements less expressly intentional, but all of our attempts to process and describe our surroundings must contend with these forces.

This fact echoes life in a body made of sensors, all wired to a brain – our experience is the sum of heavily-processed and filtered inputs. There are no guarantees of absolutes in the information we are exploring, and every sensor is a filter. And the more we learn about physics, the more we understand that we are afloat in a sea of statistical likelihoods, and that our ability to group sensations into a world of coherent, individual objects is a very free interpretation of the available data.

So it makes sense that we gravitate toward models. Unless you believe you have direct access to the world of pure being, models are all we’ve got. I’d like to get better at working within these constraints, and in understanding and manipulating them to our advantage."


Today's 1957 English Usage Tip:

adventurous, venturesome, adventuresome, venturous. Usage has decisively declared for the first two & against the last two. Adventuresome & venturous, when used, are due to either ignorance or avoidance of the normal.


Thanks, Vijay PMatthew B


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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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